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Multiple Personality Disorder: Co-Consciousness November 11, 2015

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Delusions, DID, multiple personality disorder.
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I had lunch yesterday with Tracy, a woman with multiple personality disorder. Multiple personality disorder is the layman’s term for Dissociative Personality Disorder, or DID. In this disorder, multiple people inhabit one person’s body. The other people inhabiting the primary person’s body are called alternate personalities, or alters for short.
In Tracy’s case, she has six alters. One is an old lady named Q who loves to make jewelry. One is a man, two are children, and the other two are adult women.
The reason I had lunch with Tracy was to get to know her better. She had approached me because she wanted to become trained in a NAMI program called In Our Own Voice (IOOV). In that program, two people living successfully with a mental illness go out to various groups of people such as college classes, church groups, police officers, psych nurses, or anyone else who wants to learn about mental illness and talk about what it’s like to live with mental illness on a daily basis. It’s a free program, and we’ll go anywhere. As a NAMI co-presenter, you become the face of mental illness to the group of people you’re giving the presentation to.
In order to do these IOOV presentations, the person with the mental illness must go through a two day training to learn how to give these presentations in the format NAMI wants them to use. Before we allow a person to enter IOOV training, we screen them to make sure they’re stable enough to endure the training and tell their story publically without becoming unstable. Rehashing the darker aspects of their mental illness can sometimes result in the person slipping back into their illness during their training or even during their presentation, and we don’t want that. Since the person giving the presentation becomes the face of mental illness to those in the room, we want a good representation rather than a poor one. And above all we want to avoid damaging the person giving the presentation by pushing them beyond their capabilities.
In the case of DID, there are basically two versions of the illness. I’m simplifying things, of course. In the first case, the main person is taken over by an alter and mentally disappears. They have no memory of the time where the alter takes over their body. The main person mentally disappears into another space and time, only returning when the alter leaves. This leaves gaps of time in their memory, and they have no idea what their alter said or did while the alter took over their body. This is called non-co-consciousness.
Up until I met Tracy, I had no idea that there was another form of DID, called co-conscious DID. In this case, the main person stays conscious while the alter takes over their body. They know exactly what the alter is saying or doing, and can assist the alter in communicating. During lunch, Several of Tracy’s alters appeared, and it was just like having lunch with three people rather than just one. Watching the alter interact with the main person is a little like watching a puppet show, except there’s no one with a puppet on their hand.
You’d think that people like us, who live in the world of mental illness, would be more knowledgeable about various mental illnesses. But we only know what we’ve been exposed to in many cases. When Tracy first approached NAMI to become trained in the IOOV program, we had never heard of anyone being co-conscious with their alter. Our only experience with DID was negative. Giving the IOOV presentations is stressful, and stress tends to bring out the alters. We were concerned that the alters would show up mid-presentation, and the main person would disappear, leaving the situation in chaos. We decided that Tracy wouldn’t be a good candidate for the training, and we told her so. She was very disappointed, and still wanted to have lunch and get to know me better. I readily agreed.
During our what became a two hour lunch (that seemed like 10 minutes), it became clear that we had made a mistake in denying Tracy the opportunity to join our IOOV program. As she talked about being co-conscious with her alters, it dawned on me that her situation wasn’t much different than mine. When I do the IOOV presentations, the voices return. I can’t see them, but they’re talking to me as if they were sitting next to me. Actually, it’s more like having telepathy with someone, since the voices are coming from inside my head rather than outside as if from a seat next to me. It isn’t any more distracting than having your child try to interrupt you as you try to visit with another adult. And so if I can continue my presentation despite the voices talking to me, then why can’t she continue her presentation if an alter shows up? As long as we can maintain continuity, the program will work just fine.
And so I changed my mind. I’m pleased to say that NAMI Snohomish County will have a new co-presenter. Her name is Tracy and she has DID.